The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing

by Jonathan K. Dodson

Zondervan. 2014.  

Reviewed by Michael Hakmin Lee, adjunct professor, Intercultural Studies, Lincoln Christian University.

According to a survey conducted by Lifeway Research in 2010, seventy-six percent of urbanites in the greater Austin area, where Pastor Jonathan Dodson’s church is, did not regard Jesus Christ as Savior. This book assesses why so many in our contemporary, post-Christian setting find the gospel “unbelievable” (both in content and presentation) and proposes remedies to recover “a believable evangelism.” 

The main chapters are organized around three sections. The first explores four “evangelistic defeaters” or reasons why Christians often avoid evangelism and why evangelistic attempts may be unappealing to non-Christians. Dodson chides witness that is “impersonal,” or resembles the performance of a fixed script. Instead, he wisely encourages listening, asking questions, engaging the heart, and seeing evangelism as a process. 

Chapter three counters the perception that evangelism is preachy and self-righteous by making the distinction between announcing the good news of the kingdom versus recruiting people to join a particular version of Christianity—what he calls proselytizing. The next chapter addresses current cultural realities whereby the Christian claim that salvation is mediated uniquely through Jesus is often seen as intolerant, naïve, and narrow-minded. Dodson mentions in the endnote that he is addressing a version of religious pluralism “encountered in ordinary conversation” rather than “academic religious pluralism.” A more thorough and conspicuous explanation would have been helpful as those who are familiar with and sympathetic to more sophisticated pluralist perspectives, like that of John Hick, may feel like Dodson is at times propping up straw man arguments. The last deterrent to Christian witness relates to a crisis of confidence. This includes the fear of rejection and ridicule, and feelings of inadequacy. 

In the second section, Dodson continues his deconstruction of the messenger-focused, salesman approach to evangelism and the recovery of evangelism that is more sensitive to the communicative and existential needs of the receptor. This entails developing a robust understanding of the gospel, or gospel fluency (chap. 6), alongside greater cultural fluency and attentiveness to personal variations (chap. 8). Chapter seven explains five gospel metaphors, each of which addresses a specific aspect of our human brokenness and describes benefits that God offers.     

The third section recounts stories of the author using each of these five gospel metaphors in different personal encounters with seekers. This section also discusses the corporate nature of Christian witness and inclusion into the Kingdom of God (chap. 14). The book carries a casual and conversational style, avoiding technical language and academic jargon. Notes and citations are sparse and a bibliography is not included. Three to six review questions follow each of the main chapters. Though there are other resources that offer more substantial treatment on the ideas that Dodson covers, the strength of this book is in the breadth of timely and important ideas that it covers—sufficient to serve as a good primer on these topics for Christians seeking to reinvigorate this much-maligned ministry of proclamation.

….

EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 4 pp. 463-464. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors. 


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